Wolf Notes (2003)

Storm and Honey cover

 

Wolf Notes was published by Giramondo in 2003, with a new edition in 2007 from the same publisher.

This page shows three poems from the book:

  • Pedlar
  • The Lake
  • Wolf Notes
 

Pedlar

Sure, I’ve haggled on corners with fruiterers,
barrowboys raising phlegm. I’ve gone on
day after day, putting forward a face I know

to be long ago cashiered of its gloss. Some
days I’ve buffed my face with a less penniless
tarnish, and walked out into daylight’s lucrative

polish. These days who knows what’s delusively
real from what’s genuinely ersatz. I’ve carried
the faked weight of my voice through these

streets, pretending it were one of time’s carats,
making claims not worth a tinker’s cuss, but
smiling as if all work were illustrious. I’m sick

of the moon whose far side no gold can limn,
of the brass sales of my neighbours’ shops,
of tipping dreams into bargains and watching

the stars sharpen to jewels in the ear-pins
of usurers, smoothing a look in the demoted
lustre of my pots. But I’ll go on—no matter

how the world glints my loss, or the spokes
of my wheels mint out their counterfeit suns;
life declassed of its sheen. I’ll just spruik up

my mock brilliance, prink up another day
in the dull patina of my pots, and call out iron,
scraps—as if I could believe in my own finesse.

 

graphic divider

 

The Lake

At dusk she walks to the lake. On shore
a few egrets are pinpointing themselves
in the mud. Swallows gather the insect lint

off the velvet reed-heads and fly up through
the drapery of willows. It is still hot.
Those clouds look like drawn-out lengths

of wool untwilled by clippers. The egrets
are poised now—moons just off the wane—
and she thinks, too, how their necks are

curved like fingernails held out for manicure.
She walks the track that’s a draft of the lake
and gazes at where light nurses the wounded

capillaries of a scribbly gum. A heron on one leg
has the settled look of a compass, though soon,
in flight, it will have the gracility of silk

when it’s wound away. She has always loved
the walks here, the egrets stepping from
the lute music of their composure, the mallards

shaking their tails into the chiffon wakes,
the herons fletching their beaks with moths
or grasshoppers, the ibis scything the rushes

or poking at their ash-soft tail feathers.
Soon the pelicans will sail in, fill and filter
the pink. Far off, she can see where tannin

has seeped from the melaleucas, a burgundy
stain slow as her days spent amongst tiles and
formica. She’s glad now she’s watching water

shift into the orange-tipped branches of a
she-oak, a wren flick its notes towards the wand
of another’s twitching tail. There’s an oriole

trilling at the sun, a coveted berry, a few
cicadas still rattling their castanets. She loves
those casuarinas, far off, combed and groomed,

trailing their branches: a troupe of orang-utans
with all that loping, russet hair; and when
the wind gets into them, there’s a sound as if

seeds were being sorted, or feet shuffled amongst
the quiet gusts of maracas. Soon the lights on
the opposite shore will come on like little

electric fig seeds and she will walk back
listening to frogs croak in the rushes, the bush
fill with the slow cisterns of crickets, her head

with the quiet amplitude of—Keats perhaps,
or a breeze consigning ripples to the bank;
the sun, an emblazoned lifebuoy, still afloat.

 

graphic divider

 

Wolf Notes

1

This is the place the dogs are sent
to reconnoitre. This is the place
the dogs are sent to reconnoitre.
This is the place, this is the place
I’ve ached for, pulled the chain
of a long tendon and ached for.

All summer dreaming of the haste
of hounds. All summer dreaming
the leg remembers, remembers
the pain it was chained for, running
with the whelps. This is the place
where the chain broke, pulling

against pain. This is the place
of the thin, distal nail; of a moon
buried in the teeth of the pack;
of a claw broken off in the lock,
when I stretched and ached and
like prey, pulled myself down.

This is the place, this is the place
I’m a cur for, my mouth the wound
of a cruel ground. But this place
is beyond knowing. This is the place
all dogs are sent to reconnoitre,
beyond the necessities of war.


2

Go on: try to change the place
that’s fathered by the metallic nail
of a single howl. Try the fence
line, the dingos foreign to it,
able to take the taste of stones.
Already stars menace the hills

with fixed arrivals, and the moon
that keeps the darkness out
with its cold arson, lights up
the folds in the dingo’s ear
carrying the circumcision stones.
Men talk on faintly lit graves

when the sky slits itself open
to the drawn-out terror of sirens.
Go on: the sky has already put
down its mark, and before we’ll
seek the water that will soak
the blood from the ground,

we wait behind grey stones.
In our hearts, poison and black
wulfenite in a strangled moan.
Look, all our lives we’ve been
baiting the wrong animal,
unable to stop because they know.


3

The moon hung like a dewclaw.
Sirius lay dogged. Even the sun
was terrierised: so far off, so beaten
back. I walked into a wind where
winter’s forty-two teeth were bared
covering everything with a jackal’s

breath. I felt yellow eyes signal
to a pack. In the dunged-out dark
I was mongrelised by the boned
apparition of my own face. Yes,
I was doggerelled, kennelled-out
over-whelped. So many dogmas

doggeries and the vulpine crimes
of the past. I longed for elephants,
tigers, for a leopard’s or a viper’s
stealth. Then, I listened deep
from the pit of the dog-watch,
from my mind’s cold lair, from

foxglove, hound’s tongue and from
a field of sweet, dog-eared trees—
and heard how the wolf notes
show up on the dogvane, are borne
by the strength of the dogwood,
are healed by the wolf’s bane.